One of the greatest benefits to using WordPress as your website platform is that it’s endlessly optimizable thanks to user-created plugins that allow you to add the exact features you need. Literally anyone can create a plugin to provide almost any kind of function… but the problem is that literally anyone can create a plugin for WordPress. And although they may have the best of intentions, not every plugin is made the best and should be used.
There are currently over 59,000 plugins available! There are thousands of amazing options that are reliable, effective, and trustworthy, and there are thousands of options that haven’t maintained updates and might cause trouble for your website. If you add a broken or outdated plugin to your site, you run the risk of crashing your site, slowing load speed, and leaving your website vulnerable to a security breach, all of which can be disastrous for your business.
What is a WordPress Plugin?
WordPress plugins add functionality and enhancements to your WordPress site. These plugins do anything from site performance, adding a cool photo gallery, speeding up your site’s performance, getting sales leads, improving your site’s visibility on search engines and a million (okay, only 59,000) other ways to improve your website.
The Benefits of Using WordPress Plugins
After outlining what you can use WordPress plugins above, the benefits are fairly obvious. It’s an easy way to make your website better, while having someone else do all of the hard work to make it happen. I can’t begin to explain how many times that I have been in a meeting with a client discussing features they want for their website, and it seems that no matter what is wanted, my reply is universally the same; “there’s a plugin for that!”
Besides adding functionality to your site, one very important reason to use a plugin is that plugins are pieces of code, and by having them installed as plugins, it separates them from the other WordPress code. This is important because sometimes things go awry on your website, and if something goes wrong with your site, the first step is start isolating the plugins that are installed to see if they are the cause of the issue. It’s very easy to turn on and off plugins, and in the process of doing this it’s easy to determine if the cause of your site’s issues are caused by one of your plugins.
How to Choose a Safe and Reliable WordPress Plugin
When searching for a particular plugin, the first thing you will notice is that there are usually many plugins created by different developers that appear to have the exact same features. So how do you know which one to use? Here is a quick list of what to look for:
- Pay attention to Last Updated date
- Look at reviews
- Look at active installations
- Is it compatible with your version of WordPress?
- Is it Free, or is there a Paid version?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that nearly anyone can create and post a plugin for others to use. Some are people that are making money selling a paid version, while also providing a free version with limited features, and some are simply people that needed something built for their own site and decided to share it with others. The developers that are making money selling their plugin are vastly more likely to regularly update their plugin, and it’s very important for these plugins to be updated regularly. The big reason for this is that as WordPress makes changes to their code, it just might clash with the code that was used to write the plugin that you are using. It’s also important that as trends change, the plugins also change as well. So pay attention to the “Last Updated” date that is listed with each plugin. It’s fairly easy to see which plugins are getting updates. If you found two plugins that both do what you need them to do, choose the one that is being updated more regularly.
Next, take a look at the reviews and active installations. Chances are that if a plugin only has ten active installations and no reviews, it might cause big issues with your site. The safe bet is to go with a plugin that has a lot of active installations, and a five-star review. The reviews also come in handy, because you can look at positives and negative issues that actual users have experienced. Keep in mind, that just like any review, one bad review might not be reason enough to not give the plugin a try. It might be user error or the issue might have already been addressed by the developer. There’s usually no harm in installing the plugin and then removing it if it doesn’t do what you wanted, or if it was just too hard to use or set up.
And finally, check to make certain that this particular plugin is compatible with your version of WordPress. This is indicated with a green checkmark and the words “Compatible with your version of WordPress.” As core WordPress updates are made sometimes plugins don’t work with these updates. You might see the words “Untested with your version of WordPress.” This might not mean that the plugin won’t work on your site, it could either mean that you aren’t using the latest WordPress version, or the developer of this plugin didn’t test and verify its compatibility.
Premium vs. Free WordPress Plugins
Generally speaking, most plugins are free or have a free version. Why would you want to pay for something that you can get free?
Most developers would love to be money by sharing their creation. All users of these plugins would love to avoid having to pay money when all possible. So there has to be a happy medium. Many plugin developers create a free version to get you to try their plugin and limit some of the really cool features for a paid version. Don’t fret as more times than not, the free version is all that you need. The good news behind these paid plugins is that if someone is making money they are way more apt to offer regular updates, include new features and ensure they are compatible with the regular updates that WordPress makes. There’s nothing worse that discovering a really cool plugin on your site no longer works, causing your site to either break or look really bad until you find another plugin.
Essential Plugins for Your WordPress Website
We know it’s hard to determine which add-ons you need and which ones are trustworthy, especially out of 59,000 of them. To help you decide, our web design team put our heads together to create a list of features you need (Security, SEO, Design, etc) and the essential WordPress plugins to get those features. Here are the ones that every website should have so you can get the best results out of your site right from the start.
Plugins for Website Layout and Content Editors
If you’re unfamiliar with SEO, it can be overwhelming – determining keywords, writing meta descriptions and headers, but having RankMath makes it significantly easier. It’s not only a free tool that’s easy for beginners, it’s effective enough that even the seasoned pros use it. This plugin makes it fairly easy to get your site noticed by search engines.
With the Gutenberg plugin you can create custom pages using the built-in blocks and other features. Regardless of the theme that you’re using the addition of this plugin gives you lots of other options that work fluidly with any theme, and these blocks are lightweight which means that it won’t slow down your site’s performance.
Advance Custom Fields
This plugin allows you to add extra fields to existing posts, pages, forms and more. This plugin gives you the ability to add fields to the built in theme blocks such as thumbnails images or other blocks that will then be easy to edit.
Advance Custom Fields for Font Awesome
If you use Font Awesome fonts on your site, this little gem allows you to add a custom icon field to include default icons in your WordPress site.
Advanced Custom Fields: Typography Field – This plugin allows you to add fields to your theme’s settings to add Google fonts to your site’s theme. It also allows you to completely customize the font attributes, such as: Font Size, Font Weight, colors, and other variants.
Better Search Replace
If you’ve ever had to change a phone number, physical address or email address that is on every page of your site, this is why you need this plugin. With the click of a button, you can easily replace any text. You can also replace links as well. One great feature of this plugin is that you can do a “dry run” so that you can be certain that you’re replacing what is needed to be replaced. This plugin is not just for text changes. If you are working on a site on a development URL before making the site live, you can use this plugin to replace paths throughout the site to ensure that none of your image or text links will be broken when the site moves to a new domain or server. You can target specific tables and there are lots of options available. There’s also a “pro” version that offers database backups and other features. The paid version starts at $59.
Plugins for Online Lead Generation
Gravity Forms is very easy to create nicely designed forms that actually work. There are built-in “Ready Classes” that allow you to control the layout of your form fields, and lots of options for integration with lots of other services, such as PayPal, Authorize, Stripe and many many more. This integration is what makes Gravity Forms especially powerful as a lead generation tool as it can funnel your leads directly into HubSpot.
Hubspot for Gravity Forms- As mentioned above this plugin will connect your forms directly to your HubSpot account so you can access all of the tools available to manage your business leads.
It’s one of the best online call tracking tools that shows you how the callers came to your website. Analytics is not just to analyze website traffic but to learn more about your callers search behaviors too.
Plugins for Website Speed and Performance
ShortPixel Image Optimizer
The speed in which your website loads is vitally important and usually the biggest speed buster is your images. This handy plugin can compress all of your existing images with the click of a button and will automatically resize/optimize any new image that you add to your site.
This plugin offers many solutions to speed up your website, including page caching to improve the speed at which your pages load, and other features including making it so that your site’s images are only loaded as your visitor scroll down your page. This trick will improve the time it takes to load your web pages.
Plugins for Security and Spam Protection
This is spam protection to help with getting unwanted through your site’s forms and comments on your site. You can also block the perpetrators to at least attempt to slow them down. When you install this plugin you’ll be prompted to enter an API key in order to use it. This plugin is free to use for personal blogs, but you’ll need a subscription to use it for business or commercial websites.
Gravity Forms Zero Spam
There’s not much wore than getting an in-box full of spam, making it difficult to see bonafide leads. I still recommend using Google Recaptcha, but if you’re using Gravity Forms, do yourself a favor and install the free Gravity Forms Zero Spam along with it. I have had really good success with this plugin and you’ll definitely notice a drop in spam.
This plugin offers endpoint firewall protection and malware scanner to keep the bad guys out of your website. Other plugins offer cloud firewall protection, but although those can deter attacks, the endpoint firewall is more secure. Wordfence costs about $100 a year, but if you’re serious about protecting your site it’s money well spent.
There are other free backup plugins available, but Backupbuddy safely stores backups of your website on a secure off-site server. This means that if your server is compromised, you’ll still be able to restore your website. Sometimes installing or updating plugins will break a website, and if this happens you can simply restore your website without having to waste time trying to figure out which of your plugins broke the site. One cool feature of this plugin is if you move your website to a new domain, it will automatically replace all of the URLs so you won’t have any image or link breaks. This plugin costs between $80 and $200 depending on the size of your site.
Plugins for Blog Posts
Grow by Mediavine
This plugin provides buttons to share your content on users’ social media. The difference is that Grow by Mediavine has customizable buttons so that you can engage your users and encourage them to easily share your content. You can also include share counts that will give you credibility. One of the biggest differences with Grow is the flexibility that you have with placing the buttons; you can put it before the content, after or even have the button follow the reader as they scroll. There is a paid version that has more features, but the free version includes buttons for the big five social platforms; Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and LinkedIn.
Related Posts for WordPress
If you want to get your users to dig deeper into your site this plugin will do that. If they’re reading a story about cooking you can show them other related stories to keep them on your site. It not only works for stories, it also works for products as well. If you’re selling clothes, you can tease your reader with accessories to go with it.
The idea behind Disqus is to engage your audience in discussion. Comments appear in real time, and much like the big social media platforms, Disqus allows the commenters the ability to post images and emojis. This plugin works on all devices from desktop to mobile and even supports over 70 different languages. There is a free version, if you don’t mind your readers seeing ads. The ad-free version starts at just $9 a month.
With Duplicate Post, you get exactly what the name implies. You can quickly and easily clone existing posts that you can use to create other posts. You can customize its behavior and restrict its use to certain roles or post types. You can also create templates of your posts, which can be a real time saver if you have several different types of posts that you make. This is a free plugin.
404 or 301 errors on a website are a dagger for SEO rankings, and super annoying from a UX perspective. A redirect is mainly needed when you are rebuilding a new website and not using all of the all pages on the new site or simply when you’re removing a page that might have expired or any other host of reasons. The Redirection plugin makes it easy to manage these redirections on your WordPress site. You can simply type in the redirection links or the app allows you to upload them as a CSV, .htaccess or JSON files. There are instructions on how to use this Redirection, but honestly, this plugin is very intuitive.
If you’re ready to make the most out of your WordPress website? The web design team at TheeDigital is ready to help. In addition to connecting you with the best plugins and features, we’ll work with you to create custom features that help your website stand out from the competition and convert your traffic. Call us at 919-341-8901 or schedule a free consultation.